Hunting in the Basin: Legal at safe distance
Carnelian Bay resident Dana Spencer wasn’t expecting to hear gunshots during her morning jog on the forested trails behind her North Shore neighborhood.
So when she heard the “bam, click, bam, click,” Spencer said she sprinted out of harm’s way.
“I didn’t hear anything whizzing by, but it was just too close for comfort,” she said.
When Spencer called the sheriff’s department, she learned that the gunshots were already reported and attributed to a camouflaged man who walked into the forest with a gun case in hand through a popular trailhead in the neighborhood early Tuesday morning.
“Any trail that gets a lot of use, you just don’t think that there’s going to be a lot of gunshots nearby,” Spencer said.
Placer Sheriff’s Sgt. Helen Thomson confirmed the report, which dispatch received at 7:21 a.m. on Nov. 13. The witness said the presumed hunter had not fired shots in a negligent manner and appeared to be a half-mile from the Nightingale trailhead.
Sheriff personnel did not find any subject shooting a gun when they arrived to the scene. But even if they had, Thomson said the shooter was likely acting within the law.
“There was really no crime, because there’s nothing that prevents people from going out into the woods and shooting,” she said.
State law says that hunting is legal as long as a gunshot is not fired within 150 yards from any occupied dwelling or outbuilding, including a residence, barn or shed, said Rob Allen, assistant chief of the California Department of Fish and Game.
Measuring those 150 yards, a safety zone the length of one-and-a-half football fields, is the individual hunter’s responsibility, said spokesman Rex Norman of the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
“If they need a tape measure, I suggest they bring one,” he said.
State law also prohibits an individual from discharging a firearm “recklessly” or firing a bullet from or across a roadway, Allen said.
To enforce those laws, law-enforcement personnel must either witness the illicit act, or a citizen’s arrest must be filed, Allen said. California Fish and Game, the Forest Service and local authorities all can enforce the 150-yard safety zone.
“It’s everybody’s responsibility to be safe, both the hunter’s and the hiker’s,” Allen said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Both of them have to use some common sense and some good judgment.”
Doug Wright, general manager at Mountain Hardware and Sports in Truckee, said the responsibility to uphold the safety zone and other hunting laws and regulations is a matter of ethics.
“It’s like anything else ” if you’re law-abiding, you take it extremely seriously,” he said. “If you’re not, you don’t. But, what I would consider the vast majority of hunters, do take it very seriously.”
Hunters generally seek out areas far away from people, said Wright, who grew up with the sport.
“As a hunter, I would avoid it like the plague,” he said. “I don’t want to be around people. That’s part of the sport of hunting, in my mind.”
Kings Beach resident Curtis Mulkey said he hunts in the Tahoe Basin, though he generally avoids areas bordering residential neighborhoods.
“Most people think that you can’t hunt within the Basin here, and they’re wrong,” he said. “It’s still open and obviously you try to avoid those situations [around neighborhoods] if you’re smart, because all you’re going to do is get hassled.”
Broad hunting zones stretch in and out of the Basin across private property and property owned by various government agencies. Sometimes the zone will stretch right up to the lake, Mulkey said.
“There are open spaces throughout the Basin where you can hunt,” he said. “It kind of depends on what you’re after.”
As for trails, Mulkey said that hunters have “as much a right to use the trails to access where [they] want to go as anyone else.”
Allen of California Fish and Game said conflicts between hunters and residents are becoming more frequent throughout the state as housing sprawl takes over traditional hunting territory.
“It’s becoming more prevalent than it ever has been,” he said. “People are moving into areas where hunters used to hunt.”
In light of bear populations moving closer to Tahoe neighborhoods, Allen said “hunters are going to hunt where they think their success will be the greatest.”
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